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A Wrinkle in Time is a Well-Intentioned Mess (Review)

A Wrinkle in Time is a Well-Intentioned Mess (Review)

'A Wrinkle in Time' is a Well-Intentioned Mess (Review)

The big-screen adaptation is all spectacle and little substance.

Adapting a beloved, classic novel is a tall order, especially one that is not only an indelible part of the sci-fi/fantasy canon, but one that created so many of the tropes we're familiar with today. Ava DuVernay's (Selma) first foray into big-budget blockbuster territory is a heartfelt attempt to ground a novel as ephemeral as Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time into some kind of reality and the result is...a big fat mess.

In case it wasn't on your elementary school reading list -- or you just need an update -- A Wrinkle in the Time is the story of Meg Murray (Storm Reid), a precocious nerd who has grown surly since her scientist father's (Chris Pine) disappearance. With the help of three celestial beings, Meg, her genius younger brother (Deric McCabe) and a cute boy from school (Levi Miller) go on an inter-dimensional joyride through the universe with the help of a tesseract -- a sort of teleportation Meg's dad discovered, the titular "wrinkle." They eventually find that Mr. Murray has been held captive on a far flung planet by an evil being known only as the It (Pennywise is shook!). Unsurprisingly, Meg eventually able to defeat the It and save her family through the power of love (wom wom).

Related | A Wrinkle in Time Star Storm Reid Is a Force of Nature

The film adaptation highlights the fact that, despite being a touchstone of fantastical sci-fi, not all that much actually happens in A Wrinkle in Time. The galactic adventure only has a few notable plot points, and everything is wrapped up rather neatly -- it is, after all, a children's book. But instead of digging into the characters and their relationships, the film is all spectacle and very little substance. The audience is told things about the characters -- Meg is smart but damaged, Charles is a one of the greatest minds in the universe, Cal is 'good at diplomacy'-- rather than the characters actually being those things. And despite being gorgeously designed, the visuals fall flat due to an over-reliance on (increasingly clockable) CGI, plus every new world the characters journey to has already been seen in trailers, so there's no element of surprise and wonder.

And then there's the three supernatural characters: Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon, giving the same lovingly intense performance she directed at Nicole Kidman during the Golden Globes), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling, a comedic actor given the most boring, unimaginative role -- her character only speaks in other people's quotes), and Mrs. Which (Oprah, literally just Oprah with sparkly eyebrows). These immortal warriors for good are relegated to being, essentially, drag queens -- they change costumes, hair and makeup every time they tesser through space. This could have at least been fabulous in a gimmicky way if the looks had been good -- spoiler alert: they aren't. And despite it being a serious gag, the problem with casting Oprah as an all-powerful, fantastical being is that...Oprah is an all-powerful, fantastical being, so there's no way to see her as the character and not just as Oprah. She imparts loving wisdom to Meg in the exact same way she would to a guest on her talk show.

Music is also used very strangely in this film -- in a flashback scene where Pine's character finally discovers the "frequency" required for a tesseract, a badly mixed song by Sia completely overpowers an important part of exposition. There's also a gorgeous new song by Sade featured in the film, but hearing it just made me go, "OMG, Sade!" and completely took me out of the moment.

There is so much power in a huge studio film being directed by a woman of color, starring a young woman of color, and that power isn't diminished by the film not being great -- it will still make buckets of money, proving that more black women should be behind and in front of huge blockbuster films. Duverynay has repeatedly said that she made this movie for young black women, who desperately need to see themselves represened in media -- so despite A Wrinkle in Time's flaws, it still succeeds at that. But it would have been nice if the movie was actually, you know, good.

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